Ballet dancer Misty Copeland has the great distinction of being the first Black female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT).
However, even with the success of Copeland, Black ballet dancers have historically faced and continue to face prejudice and being boxed into stereotypes.
As recent as 2021, Chloé Lopes Gomes, a French dancer and the first Black female dancer at Berlin’s principal ballet company Staatsballet, says she faced racial discrimination as a ballet dancer.
She claims she was told she did not fit in because of her skin color and was asked to wear white makeup so she would ‘blend in’ with the other dancers, according to a story on the BBC.
Racheal Parini, a Black dancer with BalletMet, risked further injury after slipping on fake snow during a performance of “The Nutcracker,” according to an article in the Columbus Dispatch.
She says she tried to hide and ignore the injury because the fear of having the audience see the only female Black dancer fail was more terrifying than being injured.
In a 2018 Time magazine article, Copeland herself discussed systemic biases in ballet, which she says pushed her work beyond just dance and into the realm of societal injustices.
“Flower” is Copeland’s first starring role in an independently produced short film. It is a story about intergenerational equity in Oakland, California.
Copeland is also a producer on the film with her production partner for Life In Motion Productions, Leyla Fayyaz, along with fellow producer Jon Brewer. Although “Flower” does not deal with racism in ballet, the narrative expresses overtones of racial disparity through dance.
Copeland says the initial concept for “Flower” was the idea of the film’s executive producer, Nelson George. George directed Copeland’s documentary about her life and career, “A Ballerina’s Tale.”
“He would come to me and constantly try to get me to act on television and film, and it wasn’t something I was really interested in,” said Copeland. “Then he said, ‘What if it’s a silent film, what if it’s what you do, and take this way of acting, and movement, and put it into a film?’”
Copeland liked George’s vision and they began preproduction on “Flower.”
The decision was made to set the short film in Oakland because Copeland has close connections with the city. Her husband, Olu Evans, was born and raised there.
“I spent a lot of time there, and I’ve always been impressed with their [Oakland] arts, culture, activism, social justice, and history,” explained Copeland.
Copeland says the filmmakers understood the importance of using talent, staff, and crew from the Bay Area, where Oakland is located, so that the film would have an authentic voice.
Copeland says singer, songwriter, and music producer Raphael Saadiq was selected to be the music composer for “Flower” because of his talent and his connection to Oakland.
Choreographer Alonzo King and the dance creative team of Rich + Tone were also chosen due to their histories with Oakland.
The story of “Flower” focuses on two hot-button items: the unhoused and family caregiving. The filmmakers’ goal was to deal with the subject of homelessness by unraveling the journey, life, and background of the person living on the street.
“We really wanted to allow people to step back and see this can happen to anyone, by giving you one story, one example of how this can happen,” said Copeland.
Copeland continued, “You think about gentrification and tech coming into that community and pricing people out of their family and childhood homes. You spend all this time immersed in your community, then suddenly, you can no longer afford to live there.”
Copeland’s character “Rose” is also on a journey of trying to follow her dreams, while taking care of her mother, who is challenged by dementia. The reality of their situation is that Rose can no longer afford the family home, even while working two jobs as a waitress and a dance instructor.
“Whether you’re from Oakland or not, this is an issue you can connect with because it’s an American issue,” said Copeland.
Copeland says the “Flower” production team worked in tandem with many Oakland change leaders to ensure they were respectful to the plight of over 582,000 Americans experiencing homelessness.
Keith L. Underwood is the host of the KBLA Talk 1580 entertainment radio show, “Black In The Green Room.” A former entertainment publicist, he currently develops platforms for performers, creatives, and Hollywood execs to shine and inspire. IG: @umaworldwide.